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Government, Politics & Issues

Schweich lays out legal case, calls editorial 'corrupt'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 30, 2011 - Missouri state Auditor Tom Schweich exuded anger today as he sought to lay out his legal arguments for suing Gov. Jay Nixon in fiscal dispute, while also defending himself against a critical Post-Dispatch editorial that the auditor called "corrupt, dishonest'' and "libelous."

The newspaper replied that it stood by what was written.

Schweich said during a half-hour news conference in Jefferson City that he had initially planned to stay silent after filing the suit last Friday -- but that events had forced him to defend himself.

Aside from the editorial, Nixon also spoke at length about the suit on Monday, during a news conference in St. Louis County. (Click here for the Nixon video, taken by Beacon freelance writer Jason Rosenbaum).

Schweich's suit contends that Nixon violated the state constitution when he withheld $170 million from this fiscal year's budget, taking it from numerous programs, to redirect the money to cover the state's share of disaster relief. Most of the money is to go to Joplin, Mo., which suffered a deadly tornado May 22, a week after the General Assembly ended its regular session.

Schweich said he stands by his basic contention that A) the governor provided no financial documents to back up his withholds, and B) the governor doesn't have the power to appropriate money, and should have sought legislative approval.

Schweich allowed that he also was disturbed that Nixon and his staff declined to return phone calls or answer inquiries when the state auditor's office first raised its concerns several weeks ago. The auditor said that a lawsuit then became the only option.

Schweich said that, with his suit, he was standing up for "all those people who are losing their jobs, losing their programs'' as a result of the $170 million in withholds.

But Schweich denied the assertion in the Post-Dispatch editorial that he also may have acted because Nixon withheld $300,000 in additional money earmarked in the budget for the auditor's office.

Schweich said the money wasn't for his normal operations, but had been allocated by the Republican-controlled General Assembly because it wanted the auditor's office to conduct a special "comparative audit" to root out waste in state government and to examine best practices in other states.

Schweich said the only reason the $300,000 was mentioned in the law suit was to give his office legal standing for going to court.

He called for "a retraction and an apology'' from the newspaper, which is declining to do so.

Schweich contended that the Post-Dispatch has been at odds with him ever since he was in Afghanistan, as then-President George W. Bush's special ambassador against drugs. Afghanistan long has been a source of the poppies used to make heroin.

Click here and here to view Parts 1 and 2 of Schweich's news conference, posted by his office on Youtube.

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